Monday, August 13, 2018

Mount Misery, Tasmania – much better than it sounds

On the way to the summit of Mt. Misery

We – walking buddy and I, walked to Mt. Misery last week.  Although it was a bit of a dreary day, this three hour walk was much more interesting and attractive than it sounds.

Access is via Huon Bush Retreats an eco - resort at Ranelagh which is a private Habitat Reserve, an interesting concept in itself. Sixty –eight landowners in the area have banded together to create a haven for flora and fauna, protected by covenants over the land, the first to have been issued in Tasmania. You don't have to stay at the resort to do the walk, nor is there any charge, but donations are welcome. Learn more about private reserves at the end of this post*. 

After negotiating the gravel road of which the last 500 metres is especially challenging to 2WD cars - the secret is not to stop or slow down, you arrive at what appears to be a bushland campground. There was no one else here when we came though we had contacted the managers beforehand. Cabins and teepees are tucked away unobtrusively among the trees and there is even an outdoor bath. The resort uses solar power, natural water and composting toilets and doesn't have television or wifi, though there are board games if you like.

Wallabies hop about freely and the air is filled with birdsong. The tracks have all been built by the managers and there are a number of interpretive panels. Unusually, these also include information about the Aboriginal heritage of the area and the geology, things you don't often see. 
Science and Dreamtime stories come together here

Even though I am a card carrying member of the Slothbagger's club  the walk to the top of the mountain wasn’t too difficult. Along the way,  there is a great variety of vegetation in a smallish area -enormous eucalypts, a bit of rainforest, heathlands, fungi and ferns, including epiphytes – the type of ferns that make their home on other plants, rather than putting roots down themselves. 

Commonly called a kangaroo paw fern  (Microsorum Pustulatum) this prefers to grow on other plants

If you didn't want to do the whole walk you could just walk up to the lookout where you can look down the valley and see the bend in the Huon River which was the staging point for all that came and went until the road was built, or you could walk a little further to the plateau and get a bird's eye view of the surrounding mountains. After that, it’s only a gentle climb to the top.  

On the way back we do a detour to a pretty little waterfall that drops way, way down into a narrow gorge. We were lucky to see it in flow because apparently it hasn’t run for a couple of years due to lower rainfall. This year despite the  crippling drought on on the mainland - the second worst since 1902, Tasmania has had its share.  All in all a thoroughly pleasant day. 

A few cheery fungi

* About Private Habitat Reserves
Until 2009 the State Government managed conservation efforts on private land, including that on Mt. Misery, but since then they have been managed by The Tasmanian Land Conservancy, a non -profit foundation, which buys land with high conservation values or endangered species on it, puts a covenant over it to protect them in perpetuity, and then resells it to a suitable buyer who will protect it. It is an interesting idea which is especially useful in places where the Government is unable or unwilling to fund reserves itself.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Celebrating Antarctica 2018

Getting up close and personal with the "Investigator," the CSIRO's new research vessel- all ten storeys of it

View from the bridge

Another year has gone by and Hobart is once again celebrating its role as a Gateway City to Antarctica. True - it’s not the only one  -  Ushuaia  and Punto Arenas in Chile, Cape Town in South Africa and Christchurch in New Zealand also serve as supply bases  and points of contact for visitors, but Hobart has held this role since the 1830’s, when whalers and sealers caught sight of the frozen continent while looking for new territory to exploit. 

Scientific equipment, large cranes and submersibles take up a good deal of space
... but there's still room for comfortable cabins
...and a well stocked kitchen. So, how many litres of icecream do you think Australia's expeditioners go through each year?
 a) 190 litres?    b) 1980 litres?   c) 19,800 litres?    d) 198,000 litres? (find out the the answer here)

 Hobart also continues to be the centre for scientific research. Being comparatively untouched, Antarctica is possibly the greatest living laboratory on earth.  As I write, there are over one hundred projects in progress involving scientists from 28 countries and 176 institutions.  Their work covers a broad range of subjects from Climate Change observations and atmospheric and oceanic processes to studies of terrestrial and marine species, monitoring of fish stocks and conservation, as well as broader fields such as astronomy, geosciences and human biology.

We also get a chance to look over the "Aurora Australis" which has been the workhorse of Antarctic expeditioners for almost 30 years, carrying stores, equipment and even whole laboratories to the frozen continent

Long serving second officer on the Aurora, Naomi Petersen explains the finer points of negotiating  pack ice to a spellbound audience

While last year’s festival largely centered on Tasmania’s historical connections, the emphasis this year is on this ongoing scientific work and the future. Along the wharf, the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies had many hands  -on displays for budding scientists and both the CSIRO’s Research Vessel “The Investigator” and the Antarctic Division’s trusty supply ship “The Aurora Australis” were open for public inspection.  There were also opportunities to ask questions, quiz scientists, listen to a range of lectures and to look at numerous exhibits. 

A friendly husky pokes his nose out from under a stall
This year there were lots of activities for children - story telling,colouring and stickers for younger ones, and science activities- e.g. simulated diving and manoevering of remote control vehicles for older ones
Giant Penguins from the Children's Art Exhibition returning to their "nest" at the end of the day

The scientists hope that by sharing their work with the public, we too will appreciate Antarctica’s uniqueness and will be moved to protect it as a place for peaceful international cooperation. Next year's festival promises to be even bigger with Norway planning to send a contingent in honour of  their countryman Amundsen, who was the first to reach the South Pole, and tiny Monaco, an original sponsor of Mawson's  expedition, is also planning to make a contribution.  

Small Bonus:
Just as we were leaving the docks Sammy the resident seal made an impromptu appearance, though in my usual fashion, I did not do well trying to catch him on camera. 

Herewith an excellent picture of Sammy's behind  as he leaves the scene- can you spot it between the blue barge and the green boat?

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Looking for Rueben’s Falls

A feast of ferns - Ferns are among the oldest plants on earth and Tasmania has more than its fair share of endemic ones. These fishbone ferns (Blechnum Nudum) were especially prolific in these parts. This one simply loves disturbed ground, so long as its wet
It had been excellent weather for both ferns and waterfalls lately, so last weekend I set off  in search of Rueben’s Falls. The directions were in an old walking book I had but they had thus far eluded me.  They lie in dense logging country somewhere to the south of Judbury. My previous enquiries at usually helpful Forestry Offices had yielded only a tight -lipped  "That road‘s been closed for years.” Something to do with an unresolved landslip apparently.

Soft Bracken -like fronds of the Batwing Fern ((Hystiopteris incisa). These grow to around 1 m. This one is only a baby

 I was very surprised therefore to see several reports of recent visits on the Waterfalls of Tasmania site and thought it was time to have another look. Since it was the weekend, there was no point in consulting the forestry office. The original road was still closed but when I arrived at Tahune Airwalk where it ends, a young man closing the visitor's centre told me he had recently been there on a training exercise and gave me an excellent mud map of how to find the track.  Despite this, I spent the rest of the day driving around on forestry roads that weren’t signposted and usually not marked on any standard map. None of these roads were sealed, most were quite narrow with many rough spots and one or two steep and greasy sections which necessitated great care. 

Hard Water Fern- Blechnum Wattsi ( I think!)
Top and centre - Umbrella Fan Fern (Sticherus Urcolatus) not to be confused with the Tangle Fern or Coral Fern beneath it - see below

For all that, there was more traffic than I had anticipated. I passed young men having a beer amid a huddle of utes  and 4 X 4s. I also saw several burnt out cars (now I know where cars go to die) and I saw one young woman standing by while a tow truck loaded up hers.  I didn’t dare cut corners or try to avoid too many potholes because the prospect of encountering another driver who also thought he/ she was Robinson Crusoe could not be discounted, nor could the possibility - even on a weekend, of meeting a fully laden log truck.  

Possibly a tangle fern (Gleichenia Dicarpa). It could also be the very similar Coral Fern (Gleichenia Alpina)  found in the Hartz Mountains, but I can't tell unless it shows the rustcoloured growing tips. This one also seems larger and softer, though that may be a function of  lower altitude and its more sheltered position. 

At last I arrived at the road which I assumed to be the correct one, only to find a locked gate. The gate was rusty and didn’t look like it had been used in a very long time. There was no mention of it in the notes from the young man.They said, “The track to the falls starts at the end of the road. “ Did he mean here or somewhere else? Was I in fact on the right road?  It was now just after four, the shadows were getting long and I didn’t want to find out that I wasn’t in the dark, so I made myself a coffee, ate a tin of beans and some fruit salad (sequentially, not together) which were still in the van’s modest pantry and then hunkered down for the night, faintly hoping that perhaps by morning a magic fairy would arrive with a key. This was not to be. Morning dawned grey and cold - so cold that I started walking just to keep warm. 

Mixed ferns and friends. The magnificent tree fern (Dicksonia Antarctica) also grows here but prefers the deep wet gullies and isn't so easily seen from the road

The gravel road - not too bad this time, meandered gently uphill and down, past pretty gullies and gushing creeks, over bridges and past new plantations. It also passed by several other roads and promising looking tracks. Although some of these had flagging tape, they ended up going nowhere. After about two hours, I came to a T- junction with a major road which, by dead reckoning had to be the other part of the original one which had been closed off. This meant that the falls were now at least another ten km away - not impossible, but not especially tempting given that it would make around 26 km all up -not exactly the sort of pleasant country ramble which I had had in mind.

There were a few fungi about too, though not as many as last year - too early perhaps
I may not have found Rueben's Falls, but there were several pretty cascades like this one

Such are the pitfalls which await the wild waterfall hunter. True, probably nothing a good Tasmap, a good GPS or even a chat with Forestry couldn’t fix, but from the comments by previous waterfall baggers, it didn’t sound as if it was going to be that difficult.
While Rueben’s Falls must remain a mystery for another day, it was a lovely walk and gave me a chance to get more acquainted with many of Tasmania’s lovely ferns without even leaving the road. As well as now knowing exactly where to go next time, my recently acquired and extensive knowledge of forestry roads also enabled me to guide another couple out who’d become lost while trying to find the way to Geeveston. 

PS You don't have to go to such lengths to see ferns in their natural habitat.  Within 10 km of Hobart  for instance, there is Mt. Wellington and Ferntree. Launceston has Notley Fern Gorge within half an hour or Lilydale Falls - same distance, but to the North East. Burnie has Fernglade Reserve only five km from the city centre. Then there is Cradle Mountain and almost everywhere on the West Coast, especially around Nelson Falls*  which is 40 km on the Hobart side of Queenstown. Heading North from there, just driving over Mt. Black between Rosebery and Tullah, or driving the scenic route to Wynyard or Somerset via the Hellyer Gorge would delight any fern lover without even having to leave the car, though the picnic area at the Hellyer Gorge would be a good place to do so.

*Needs a Parks Pass, but is very informative if you are interested in ferns

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Secret Hobart – A cosy night in and an evening out

A Pint of History takes place amid the barrels and vats of Shambles Brewery in North Hobart

Our streets are usually rather deserted at this time of year, so where do Hobartians go on a cold winter’s night – that is, those who aren’t hibernating or escaping to Queensland or possibly Tuscany?  I can confide that a goodly number go to the Shambles Brewery in North Hobart on the first Thursday of the month for “A Pint of History.” 

Interesting backdrop with occasional gurgling accompaniment

Out in the back amongst the barrels and gleaming vats you will find an assortment of history buffs imbibing ales made on the premises, local wines and my own personal favourite, mulled apple cider. All seats are occupied. Tables overflow with food and drink. I and my friend Jane settle for a couple of glasses and a pint of chips.

Tonight’s event is called “A cosy night in.” It begins with some light entertainment with the MC presenting fashionable jokes of the C19th.   Most of these fall rather flat, proving how ephemeral humour is. Then there are strictly timed presentations –no more than ten minutes each, by three local historians on obscure aspects of history – the evolution of board games (who would have guessed that one of our eminent historians was a board game aficionado) or what went down in military mess halls or what Arctic explorers did while being snowed in. 

Ann reads from the letters of famous Arctic explorers, such as Franklin of Tasmanian and North West Passage fame
Afterwards there’s a bit of Q & A and a raffle of book vouchers and ‘rare‘ books  -all very pleasant and convivial and much more entertaining than speeches delivered in a draughty lecture hall. 

I also went out on Wednesday night. My, my social life is really taking off. This time it was for a quiz night at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania for another pleasant evening. There were about 120 people at this regular event and the competition though good natured, was fierce. Thanks to a brilliant team member well versed in celeb. doings, we won round one and also earned a round of drinks in a sudden death playoff.  In the second round our collective lack of football knowledge led to defeat by the Smooth Echidnas. Obviously something we shall seek to remedy before the next one. There is a $2 entry for this one, but that's hardly going to break the bank.

Quiz night at the Yacht Club is also well attended and highly competitive
Our champs won us a round of drinks

Interesting venue too. Just the place for a hot toddy or a hot buttered rum

Next up it will “Science in the Pub” at the Republic Bar and Grill, also in North Hobart and there are several other little known gatherings which I have yet to attend such as Saturday Irish musical afternoons at the New Sydney Hotel or the monthly meeting of Skeptics in the Pub.

The thing is, no matter what your interest is, be it line dancing, sport, Mah Jong, gospel music, intellectual stimulation, movies, crafts  or Rotary, there will be a group somewhere that caters to it. The secret is to know when and where so that you can commune with like minds, get to know new people or learn something new. If you are coming to Tasmania, do a little research beforehand and you will be pleasantly surprised.

If you don't fancy coming to Tasmania in the depths of winter these are things which you could try at home. Pubs and clubs usually don’t mind as in our case it brings business at a slow time of year. In my case at least, it definitely beats huddling around the heater watching reruns on TV.